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Retribution In The Past The Present And The Future Life
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[FN#275] The pictures were drawn by Kwoh Ngan (Kaku-an), a...
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The Parable Of The Monk And The Stupid Woman
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The Application Of The Law Of Causation To Morals
Although it may be needless to state here the law of causation at any
length, yet it is not equally needless to say a few words about its
application to morals as the law of retribution, which is a matter of
dispute even among Buddhist scholars. The kernel of the idea is very
simple-like seed, like fruit; like cause, like effect; like action,
like influence--nothing more. As fresh air strengthens and impure
air chokes us, so good conduct brings about good consequence, and bad
conduct does otherwise.[FN#217]
[FN#217] Zen lays much stress on this law. See Shu-sho-gi and
Ei-hei-ka-kun, by Do-gen.
Over against these generalizations we raise no objection, but there
are many cases, in practical life, of doubtful nature. An act of
charity, for example, might do others some sort of damage, as is
often the case with the giving of alms to the poor, which may produce
the undesirable consequence of encouraging beggary. An act of love
might produce an injurious effect, as the mother's love often spoils
her children. Some[FN#218] may think these are cases of good cause
and bad effect. We have, however, to analyze these causes and
effects in order to find in what relation they stand. In the first
case the good action of almsgiving produces the good effect of
lessening the sufferings of the poor, who should be thankful for
their benefactor. The giver is rewarded in his turn by the peace and
satisfaction of his conscience. The poor, however, when used to
being given alms are inclined to grow lazy and live by means of
begging. Therefore the real cause of the bad effect is the
thoughtlessness of both the giver and the given, but not charity
itself. In the second case the mother's love and kindness produce a
good effect on her and her children, making them all happy, and
enabling them to enjoy the pleasure of the sweet home; yet
carelessness and folly on the part of the mother and ingratitude on
the part of the children may bring about the bad effect.
[FN#218] Dr. H. Kato seems to have thought that good cause may bring
out bad effect when he attacked Buddhism on this point.
History is full of numerous cases in which good persons were so
unfortunate as to die a miserable death or to live in extreme
poverty, side by side with those cases in which bad people lived in
health and prosperity, enjoying a long life. Having these cases in
view, some are of the opinion that there is no law of retribution as
believed by the Buddhists. And even among the Buddhist scholars
themselves there are some who think of the law of retribution as an
ideal, and not as a law governing life. This is probably due to
their misunderstanding of the historical facts. There is no reason
because he is good and honourable that he should be wealthy or
healthy; nor is there any reason because he is bad that he should be
poor or sickly. To be good is one thing, and to be healthy or rich
is another. So also to be bad is one thing, And to be poor and sick
is another. The good are not necessarily the rich or the healthy,
nor are the bad necessarily the sick or the poor. Health must be
secured by the strict observance of hygienic rules, and not by the
keeping of ethical precepts; nor can wealth ever be accumulated by
bare morality, but by economical and industrial activity. The moral
conduct of a good person has no responsibility for his ill health or
poverty; so also the immoral action of a bad person has no concern
with his wealth or health. You should not confuse the moral with the
physical law, since the former belongs only to human life, while the
latter to the physical world.
The good are rewarded morally, not physically; their own virtues,
honours, mental peace, and satisfaction are ample compensation for
their goodness. Confucius, for example, was never rich nor high in
rank; he was, nevertheless, morally rewarded with his virtues,
honours, and the peace of mind. The following account of
him,[FN#219] though not strictly historical, well explains his state
of mind in the days of misfortune:
When Confucius was reduced to extreme distress between Khan and
Zhai, for seven days he had no cooked meat to eat, but only some soup
of coarse vegetables without any rice in it. His countenance wore
the appearance of great exhaustion, and yet be kept playing on his
lute and singing inside the house. Yen Hui (was outside) selecting
the vegetables, while Zze Lu and Zze Kung were talking together, and
said to him: 'The master has twice been driven from Lu; he had to
flee from Wei; the tree beneath which he rested was cut down in Sung;
he was reduced to extreme distress in Shang and Kau; he is held in a
state of siege here between Khan and Zhai; anyone who kills him will
be held guiltless; there is no prohibition against making him a
prisoner. And yet he keeps playing and singing, thrumming his lute
without ceasing. Can a superior man be without the feeling of shame
to such an extent as this?' Yen Hui gave them no reply, but went in
and told (their words) to Confucius, who pushed aside his lute and
said: 'Yu and Zhze are small men. Call them here, and I will explain
the thing to them.'
[FN#219] The account is given by Chwang Tsz in his book, vol.
xviii., p. 17.
When they came in, Zze Lu said: 'Your present condition may be
called one of extreme distress!' Confucius replied: 'What words are
these? When the superior man has free course with his principles,
that is what we call his success; when such course is denied, that is
what we call his failure. Now I hold in my embrace the principles of
righteousness and benevolence, and with them meet the evils of a
disordered age; where is the proof of my being in extreme distress?
Therefore, looking inwards and examining myself, I have no
difficulties about my principles; though I encounter such
difficulties (as the present), I do not lose my virtue. It is when
winter's cold is come, and the hoar-frost and snow are falling, that
we know the vegetative power of the pine and cypress. This distress
between Khan and Zhai is fortunate for me.' He then took back his
lute so that it emitted a twanging sound, and began to play and sing.
(At the same time) Zze Lu hurriedly seized a shield and began to
dance, while Zze Kung said: 'I did not know (before) the height of
heaven nor the depth of earth!'
Thus the good are unfailingly rewarded with their own virtue, and the
wholesome consequences of their actions on society at large. And the
bad are inevitably recompensed with their own vices, and the
injurious effects of their actions on their fellow-beings. This is
the unshaken conviction of humanity, past, present, and future. It
is the pith and marrow of our moral ideal. It is the crystallization
of ethical truths, distilled through long experiences from time
immemorial to this day. We can safely approve Edwin Arnold, as he
Lo I as hid seed shoots after rainless years,
So good and evil, pains and pleasures, hates
And loves, and all dead deeds come forth again,
Bearing bright leaves, or dark, sweet fruit or sour.
Longfellow also says:
No action, whether foul or fair,
Is ever done, but it leaves somewhere
A record-as a blessing or a curse.
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